A Gift For the Ages- Tabor College receives donation of nearly $1.22 million from Wyoming businessma

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN LAURA CAMPBELL
You might say that Joel Wiens is just following in the footsteps of grandfather Abraham Wiens, a Mennonite Brethren deacon from Enid, Okla., who used to send $5 checks to Tabor College in the years after the Great Depression.

But nearly 75 years later, Wiens has more than kept up with inflation with his recent donation of $1,218,500 to the college-easily the largest gift in school history.

President Larry Nikkel announced the Wyoming businessman’s gift Friday evening at Tabor’s 33rd annual President’s Dinner.

Wiens and sons Tim and Tom were present at the “donor dinner” to be recognized for what they said is the start of a partnership between the family and the college.

“This is a wonderful gift to us,” Nikkel said. “We are delighted this evening to have Joel and his sons with us to acknowledge their generosity.

“We are committed to being good stewards of this resource and will use it to help fulfill our mission of ‘preparing people for a life of learning, work and service for Christ and his kingdom.'”

Pending further planning, Nikkel said the school’s board of directors has authorized Wiens’s gift to be split in two ways.

While $218,500 will go toward the college’s ongoing capital campaign for new residence facilities, the remaining $1 million will be tentatively designated for improvements to athletic facilities.

“No formal decision been made about this, but the board has authorized us to continue planning in this direction,” Nikkel said.

Targeted for improvement is Reimer Field, which the college currently shares with Unified School District 410, Nikkel added.

“We’re in discussion with them now about how we might build a new football stadium and track and continue using them together,” he said. “The school system has informally agreed that they will fund one-half of the cost of such an improved facility.

“We have really built up our football program-so now it’s even more imperative that we provide our students and players the kind of facilities that they deserve to keep our program going.”

Nikkel said it was in early 2002 that he first heard of Wiens, a native of Drummond, Okla., who now lives in Cheyenne, Wyo.

He soon learned that Wiens is the founder, vice chairman and major shareholder of FirsTier Bank. He also owns the Kearney (Neb.) Event Center and the Nebraska Cranes, a professional men’s basketball team and member of the United States Basketball League.

His son Tom is a rancher and businessman who represents Colorado Senate District 4. He is chief executive officer of New West Capital, a mortgage company and venture capital firm, a director of FirsTier Capital and chairman of Wiens Ranch Co.

Son Tim is a real estate developer in the Loveland/Denver, Colo., area, who is launching two sports teams, the Rocky Mountain Rage and the Colorado 14ers, and the Broomfield (Colo.) Event Center simultaneously. The minor-league hockey franchise and the Continental Basketball Association club will begin later this year.

“I had gotten Joel’s name from Clint Seibel, who had gotten it from someone in Fairview (Okla.),” Nikkel said.

“You don’t just call somebody like that, that you’ve never heard of and have no relationship to,” he added with a smile.

“You just don’t do that.”

But call he did, and so began a friendship based on an uncanny number of common experiences, Nikkel said.

“In that first conversation, I learned that our lives and careers have been parallel in many ways,” he said.

Both were born and raised in Oklahoma, played baseball, graduated from college-Nikkel from Tabor and Wiens from the now defunct Phillips University of Enid-taught at the high-school level and worked in custom combining.

“And we both made money, except he made more than I did,” Nikkel said with a laugh.

In the past few months, Wiens began discussing with Nikkel the possibility of a gift to Tabor.

“Most of those discussions centered around a prearranged sale of property that Joel owned, the proceeds of which would come to Tabor,” Nikkel said.

Nikkel received the pivotal phone call from Wiens Dec. 16.

“He said, ‘I’m thinking about flying down and giving you a million dollars,'” Nikkel said. “And then he said, ‘Are you still there?'”

During the week before Christmas, the arrangements were made to transfer the bank stocks to Tabor, Nikkel said.

Wiens told those at the President’s Dinner that Nikkel and wife Elaine have proven valuable friends to Tabor and now also to him, wife Elena and his sons as new partners with the school.

“I’ve never experienced another smooth-talking silver-haired guy who could take over $1 million away from me in just four years,” Wiens said.

It wasn’t just Gray Jays like Nikkel and Wiens’s grandfather who introduced Wiens to Tabor. Several of his cousins attended the college, and his now-deceased first wife grew up just down the road in Marion.

“I’ve always been aware of Tabor College,” Wiens said. “Since Phillips University died, I haven’t had a school, so it’s obviously appearing we’re adopting Tabor.”

Tom echoed the sentiments that their family has become entwined with Tabor, in part because of the family’s Mennonite heritage that originated in the Ukraine.

“You don’t really realize until you look back a few generations that we’re here today, all of us, because of things that have happened in our own personal traditions,” he said.

“Hopefully, this gift and this school will have an impact on generation after generation, just as the heritage of our family has resulted in us being here today,” he added.

“We are so proud to be a part of this great tradition, and we thank you for that opportunity.”

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